You’re a footballer who has retired after an illustrious career, but what do you do with all this spare time that you suddenly have? Jet off to the Caribbean? Become a pundit and start a bromance with Jamie Carragher? A few have gone for something a little different, though, and have tried their hand at acting.
Some may argue that with all the diving and theatrics of modern day football, footballers are already very able actors in their own right. They don’t call Old Trafford ‘The Theatre Of Dreams‘ for nothing… Last year I looked at whether the beautiful game can make a beautiful film, and now I’m looking at these two worlds colliding in a different way. The choices below would arguably form a very potent, albeit unusually attack-focused team in their own right. Who knows, they might even give the Marvel Movies XI a run for their money? Some have had incredibly successful acting careers, some not so much, while others who have given it a go may just surprise you…
One of the most popular, enigmatic and unpredictable footballers to ever grace the Premier League, Eric Cantona has gone on to forge a credible acting career. We all know him now onscreen for his role in the 1664 adverts, but he has gone a step further with several cinematic efforts. Starring in a collection of French films, he is best known in the United Kingdom for starring opposite Cate Blanchett in the 1998 film Elizabeth (see left), and playing himself in Ken Loach’s critically acclaimed 2009 film Looking For Eric. In this film he plays a guardian angel of sorts, helping a struggling football fan to sort his life out. At one point he exclaims, “I am not a man, I am Cantona.” Quite right Eric, quite right.
In 2011 former Arsenal legend Ian Wright made a brief foray into acting, playing a character known simply as ‘Duke’ in Gun Of The Black Sun. This small British independent film came from filmmaker Jeff Burr, the director of such films as Stepfather II, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III, Puppet Master 4 and 5, and Pumpkinhead II: Blood Wings.
The film has a truly fascinating synopsis on the IMDB that is worth a read, it appears to have been written by the film’s actor/screenwriter, Gary Douglas. The plot summary states: “A Nazi Luger Pistol from W.W.2 with dark and mystical powers re-emerges in modern day Bucharest and is taken to London. En-route it falls into the hands of a Media Mogul intent on using its power to bring the return of the Fourth Reich through Technology and Music“. In conclusion, this film sounds utterly insane… but I kind of want to watch it?
One of the biggest success stories when it comes to footballers transitioning into cinema, the ex-bruiser Vinnie Jones has played… well, mostly bruisers. Not necessarily cast for his acting abilities, but Jones can certainly convey menace, and this was first seen in Guy Ritchie’s hit British gangster films Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch. The latter film shows Jones at his very best; completely emasculating a group of useless robbers while still enjoying a pint.
This sort of role has proven so successful for Jones that he has reached a point where he is almost parodying himself now. Be it a football hooligan in Eurotrip, or the Juggernaut in X-Men: The Last Stand, it seems that he will be able to perform thuggish, threatening roles indefinitely. Special mention should also go for his brilliant recent ‘Stayin’ Alive’ advert for the British Heart Foundation, which proved incredibly useful for teaching people about emergency CPR until an ambulance arrives.
One of the earliest examples of acting footballers had the stars performing in perhaps their most natural habitat: a football pitch. More specifically, a number of footballers (including the legendary Pelé and former England captain and World Cup winner Bobby Moore) appeared in John Huston’s 1981 classic film, Escape to Victory.
The film sees a ragtag group of Allied prisoners of war in WWII joining forces to play an exhibition football match against a German team. The film is quite unique in its pairing of such legendary footballers with actors like Michael Caine, Max von Sydow and Sylvester Stallone. Stallone played the team’s goalkeeper and was coached by former England goalkeeper and 1966 hero Gordon Banks. The film also contains a famous overhead kick from Pelé, but it was actually the second take which made it into the film; the first time it was filmed, the opposition goalkeeper Laurie Sivell pulled of a remarkable save and knocked the shot into the post.
At first glance, pretty boy David Ginola seems a natural fit for the silver screen. And so it proved, with Ginola making his debut in an Anglo-French short film Rosbeef which premiered during the 2004 Cannes Film Festival. Ginola played lead character ‘Didier the Butcher’, in what has been described as, “a tale of love, lust and a kilo of sausages“.
Ginola’s first feature film came in 2006 with The Last Drop, co-starring with such creditable actors as Billy Zane, Alexander Skarsgård, Michael Masden and… Jack Dee? No, really. Ginola played a renegade German sniper called Corporal Dieter Max, in this Second World War heist movie.
She is Scotland’s most-capped footballer with an incredible 191 caps, but in 2013 goalkeeper Gemma Fay swapped the gloves for the glamour with a leading role in a TV movie called Rubenesque. No spoilers here, but Fay actually starts the movie playing a referee’s assistant! Will this have made her more sympathetic towards the officials in future, I wonder? She stars opposite former Doctor Who star Freema Agyeman AKA Martha Jones, and Fay’s performance was lauded at the time. Described by Metro as, “a talent to watch“, she received greater praise still from Time Out who proclaimed her performance as, “hands-down the most exceptional dramatic role played by footballer since Jurgen Klinsmann’s retirement“.
One of the more surprising roles of late came from former Liverpool star Stan Collymore, who starred opposite Hollywood star Sharon Stone in the critically panned 2006 mystery thriller, Basic Instinct 2. Collymore played a famous English football star named Kevin Franks; if the boot fits, etc. etc… Stone has spoken publicly of how good Collymore was to work with, and that he did his own stunts. Unfortunately, the film has a score of just 7% on Rotten Tomatoes, winning the Razzie award that film year for Worst Picture.
Many will be used to the sight of Ally McCoist from his time on BBC’s A Question Of Sport. But McCoist, in fact, appeared in A Shot Of Glory, a film which included a highly impressive cast containing the likes of Robert Duvall (The Godather, Apocalypse Now), Brian Cox (The Bourne Supremacy, Manhunter) and Michael Keaton (Birdman, Spotlight). The film is a familiar underdogs tale of the fictional Kilnockie FC, and their attempt to win a first Scottish Cup Final. What may surprise some is that McCoist, the former Rangers player and manager, plays a character named Jackie McQuillan who is a former legendary Celtic player!
Okay, cards on the table… I photo-shopped Anelka into the poster seen to the left, but I maintain that it works. The former… I’m not even sure that I have the room to the list them all… the former seemingly-every-team-in-the-Premier-League forward starred in the 2002 film, Le Boulet. His role? Nicolas, the football player. I mean, that’s just lazy… The action film looks suitably deranged, with IMDB confirming that, “Crazy adventures happen“, at some point. Anelka’s cameo in the film is well worth a watch however, displaying his acting range by using a football to take out a bad guy. But I guess he is ‘Nicholas, the football player’, after all…
Another to display his ‘range’, the legend himself began his acting career by playing… himself. Along with other then-Real Madrid stars, Beckham cameoed in Goal! The Dream Begins. Either he wasn’t doing much acting, or he just didn’t like lead character Santiago Muñez much. That said, Beckham does perfectly set up the sequel there for Goal II: Living the Dream, in which he also appears.
Despite having lived in Los Angeles, Beckham himself has commented that he believes he is too “stiff” for acting. Since then, however, he has impressed in an Only Fools And Horses spin-off sketch in 2014 for Sport Relief. Even more recently he has cameoed as a projectionist in Guy Ritchie’s The Man from U.N.C.L.E., and will again work with Ritchie as a grumpy knight in the imminent new blockbuster, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword. What is it about Guy Ritchie and footballers?
So what did Mr Ancelotti do with his time off between his managerial roles at Real Madrid and his current club, Bayern Munich? The answer may shock, but last year it was widely reported that he was filmed for an unexpected cameo in the 2016 action film, Star Trek Beyond. This was due to Ancelotti having struck up an unlikely friendship with one of the stars of the film, lead actress Zoe Saldana. And this was not even Ancelotti’s first dabble into film; he also appeared in a 1984 Italian comedy called L’allenatore nel pallone, starring Lino Banfi as a peculiar football coach who takes charge of a small team in Northern Italy. I wonder if Ancelotti took any tips?
So there you have it, a whole team and manager of footballers who’ve given acting a go. It makes sense when you think about it – one of the few careers that could possibly match a footballers wage is movie stardom. That said, a few of the players above have made a very successful go of it with acting, appearing in some genuinely classic movies. But this phenomenon doesn’t look set to end anytime soon… and the latest edition to these crossover specialists can be an almighty impact sub for this team. 2017 has seen the acting debut of Neymar da Silva Santos Júnior, otherwise known as Neymar. He appeared opposite Vin Diesel and Samuel L. Jackson in xXx: Return of Xander Cage, with a trick straight out of the Nicholas Anelka book of bad guy take-outs. Long may this peculiar trend continue.